The NFL, like all sports, is continuously adapting due to the increase in data analytics to optimize performance both on and off the field. You look at players like LeBron James and Tom Brady who are doing things late in their career that would have been unfathomable a decade ago. There is also a clear switch in basketball from the half-court style to the run-n-gun three-point oriented style, all due to data to optimize performance. In the NFL, executives have become much smarter when it comes to the ideal team building strategy.
The old adage “defense wins championships” is an obvious one that teams try to do but they go about it the wrong way. Starting with the Seahawks Super Bowl squad and followed by the Eagles, the Rams are showing that the best time to win a championship is in your quarterback’s first four seasons.
You look at all four teams and you see the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson, Eagles drafted Carson Wentz, and the Rams drafted Jared Goff. Both Seattle and Philadelphia won the big prize in their quarterback’s second season and the Rams won the NFC West. With their abundance of cap space and resources, they knew the last thing they had to emulate of those championship teams was the defensive side of the football.
The Seahawks surrounded Russell Wilson’s innate ability to create plays with both his arm and legs with a great offensive line and defense. The Legion of Boom had an unbelievable secondary and a defensive line and linebackers that were very good as well. Quarterbacks were scared to death to throw over to Richard Sherman. And if you went into Seattle you were gonna lose. That defense was the reason they won the Super Bowl with one of the most shocking and amazing performances, defeating a Broncos offense that had set all kinds of records that year. The other key to that team was the running game. The bruising running back that was the focal point of your offense, opening up the play-action passing game, and keeping an offense balanced.
That same team building strategy was shown in Philadelphia this past season. Howie Roseman did all he could to load up the defensive line and the offensive line to make them the best groups in the league. He signed and traded for players like LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi to give them an offensive identity. Doug Pederson focused his gameplan around attacking the ground game and quick hitting plays from Wentz and Foles. Although the Super Bowl went against the rule, the defense drove that team, like the Seahawks through that year. Both of the offenses were good, but those defenses were on a different level. Just like Seattle, no one was going into the Linc and winning. The only game they lost at home last year was against Dallas in week 17, a game in which Nate Sudfeld played for three quarters. In the playoffs, the Falcons and the Vikings scored a combined 17 points in the Linc against Jim Schwartz’s defense.
After the early part of this off-season, it is obvious that this is what the Rams are trying to mirror. They have their young quarterback that isn’t getting paid anything (relatively speaking). With that, they have the ability to stack their defense with talent. Bringing in Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, and Ndamukong Suh to go along with Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers. Good luck scoring on that bunch. They also have that dominant ground game that Philly and Seattle had in Todd Gurley. And just like Doug Pederson, Sean McVay predicates his offense on the running game, play-action, and quick hitters.
The Rams doubling down on this strategy sends an important message to the other teams in the NFL that don’t have Tom Brady. The best way you build a Super Bowl champion in this league is to find your quarterback, and while he is on his rookie deal, spend a lot of your cap on loading up your defense, and then construct a balanced offense. The Rams are now down to two years left in their Jared Goff “rookie contract window” and are looking like Super Bowl favorites at this point.